Muslim prayer helps get rid of gang and drug violence in South Africa
A groups of Islamic scholars in South Africa has been on a mission for the past three years to bring peace to the neighborhoods of Cape Town that suffer from gang violence and drug addiction
Most Thursday evenings the scholars go to Cape Town's ganglands, including the township of Manenberg for an open-air form of worship known as "dhikr". These sessions involve a rhythmic repetition of the name of God and his attributes.
Over the last three years there has never been a gang fight during the hour-and-a-half of worship, the organisers say.
Usually between 100 and 400 people attend. There was one worship dedicated to fighting gender-based violence - a huge problem in South Africa - which had nearly 2,000 people in attendance.
"It is not about the numbers. The overwhelming part is that despite all conditions we are able to have the dhikr running consistently for the past three years," organiser Sheikh Mogamad Saalieg Isaacs says.
Manenberg is a township that was created by the apartheid government in the 1960s for low-income coloured people, which is the official term for people of mixed racial origin in the country.
The white-minority regime at the time forcefully segregated communities by race, allowing white people to live in affluent areas of cities.
The township has an estimated population in excess of 52,000 people, who are mainly Christian, and unemployment, poverty, crime and gang violence is rife.
Sheikh Sameeg Norodien, another of the founders of Manenberg's dhikr sessions, prepares a pot of food for the devotees. There is a custom in Cape Town where people are given cake or something sweet to eat - known as "niyaz" - after the gathering
But as Manenberg is an impoverished community the devotees are given a hot meal after dhikr.
Manenberg was declared a "red danger zone" by the authorities in mid-2015 and for several months ambulances were unable to enter the area unless escorted by the police.
However, the gangsters in certain areas will now sometimes help the Islamic scholars lay out the prayer mats at the beginning of the programmes, says Sheikh Isaacs.
"There was a specific period between 2018 and 2019 where crime in Manenberg decreased during the time we were having the dhikr programmes," he says.
The organisers have received an award from the police in Manenberg for the role the dhikr sessions play in the community.
The short-term goal of the organisers is to bring peace, calmness and tranquillity to the township, their long-term goal is to promote engagement with the relevant authorities to rid it of drugs and gangsterism.
Children are warned about the impact of drugs and are encouraged to join the dhikr sessions in the hope that they do not fall prey to gangsters and drug dealers.
The Christian community is said to be very respectful of the dhikr sessions. The organisers try and get a Christian priest as a guest speaker at some of the sessions.
"The dhikr has caused a calmness in Manenberg," says Sheikh Isaacs.
Based on Pew’s 2010 report, Muslims accounted for 1.5% of the South African population, with the Muslim community comprising mainly those who are described as Coloreds and Asians.
Black and white South African converts as well as others from different parts of Africa joined them. Islam might be the fastest-growing religion of conversion in the country, with the number of black Muslims growing sixfold, from 12,000 in 1991 to 74,700 in 2004.